There is a charge often laid against Theosophy that it is impractical, that its teachings are more of the nature of metaphysical abstractions than scientific facts that can be of practical use in this everyday world of ours. This is an accusation which Theosophists should face and prove either true or false. For, if Theosophy is impractical, the sooner we give up its study, the better for us. If Theosophy is not demonstrable science which can be applied to our ordinary lives, which can teach us how to live and how to die, how to meet and deal intelligently with the numberless problems that daily confront us, of what use is it to Humanity? Any science or philosophy which has no practical application, which is incapable of making us good and useful and happy, is not worthy of our best efforts. But, on the other hand, a science or philosophy which does accomplish these results is bound to bring us upon a higher spiral of evolution, and consequently we cannot afford to ignore it.
Now Theosophy claims to be such a science, and those who have spent many years in its study give their testimony as to the practicality of its teachings in matters of everyday life. If we, therefore, have not had personal assurance and proof of its practical side, it may be well for us to examine our own attitude and see if the charge laid against Theosophy might not perhaps be traced to our own wrong ideas as to what Theosophy really is.
First of all, let us rid our minds of the thought that Theosophy is a new science, invented by some mind in our day and generation. Theosophy is an ancient and immemorial science, consistent in all its parts, and as exact and unchanging in its nature as the science of mathematics. Failure to realize this fact is the cause of the first difficulty experienced by people when they try to approach the study of Theosophy. Their next difficulty is in the method of approach to the study of this ancient and immemorial science.
If we take the scientific and the philosophical branches of knowledge we find that the approach to each is different. The same methods of investigation and research are not applied to the study of science as are applied to the study of philosophy or metaphysics. Scientific knowledge is gained by the help of the physical senses, aided by such instruments as the telescope, the microscope, or test-tubes; on the other hand, philosophical knowledge is gained by the use of the intellect and mental faculties. The method of approach to both these branches of knowledge is taught in our schools and colleges, and can be understood even by the layman.
But when we approach the study of Theosophy, we come face to face with a new sort of science, that which is spoken of as the Science of the Soul. We find here a philosophy of a spiritual nature, the study of the hidden side of the universe and of man. And at this point we become aware of the fact that the moment we come into the domain of invisible nature, we touch the borderland of mysticism, a realm to whose approach no rules are found in our educational systems.
And here, in this approach to superphysical or invisible matter, the scientists are in a somewhat analogous position to that of a savage if he were to attempt the study of modern science. He would not know how to approach this study; his faculties and instruments for investigation would be untrained and consequently useless. Likewise, in the investigation of this subtler form of matter, the scientist finds his difficulty in training faculties or finding instruments which he can use for his experiments. For, this form of matter cannot be perceived by means of the instruments used in the investigation of other forms of matter. No telescope, however powerful, can perceive it; no microscope, however fine, can bring it to light. The physical senses as instruments of investigation have reached a wall which they cannot penetrate, and consequently new and different lines of investigation have to be evolved by the scientific investigator.
In this new kind of investigation, the scientist has been obliged to take up an unscientific position. If he were asked, for instance, to accept what another person saw through a telescope, he would be reluctant. Such second-hand testimony would not be acceptable; he would insist upon using the telescope himself and forming his own opinions and conclusions. Therefore, if the scientific man is to remain logical to the method consistently used by science, he must, in this new field of endeavour, also insist upon making his own investigations, and developing that faculty in himself which will enable him to do so.
Here Theosophy shows us that its claim to be called a science are most logical, for it tells us that in our approach to this science of the soul the scientific method may be followed; we can approach the science of the soul by means of our own soul, and with the aid of a faculty developed in ourselves by ourselves.
As the science of the soul is different from ordinary sciences, in that it deals with the soul, which may not be investigated by means of the senses or the mind, therefore for the investigation of this science a new faculty is needed, a faculty which is higher than the senses and the reasoning mind.
But suppose this faculty is not developed in us; how then can we make the necessary investigations before such time as it is developed? What would we do if we were unable to investigate for ourselves the propositions of science or philosophy? First of all, we would study the conclusions reached by those people who have had the necessary qualifications for these investigations. And just as there are people who are considered competent to pass judgement upon matters scientific or philosophical, so are there persons competent to pass judgement upon matters pertaining to the science of the soul is through the soul itself, we should turn to the development of the soul faculty in ourselves.
Here a word of caution. Let us beware of coming to the study of the science of the soul with our old predilections. Let us not come to this subject trying to reconcile it with knowledge that we already possess. Our first rule should be to try to understand the science of the soul as it is put forward by the professors of that science, and not to pass judgement upon it before we have understood it.
In order to understand it, we must also come to the realization that, as it takes years of application to become a musician, a scientist or a philosopher, likewise to become proficient in the science of the soul a systematic course of quiet study, with its practical application, must be undertaken and adhered to.
The life of business, of art, of politics, of personal ambition in any of its phases, cannot help us to understand either ourselves or human nature. Our life cannot become co-ordinated until we acquire a science, a philosophy and a religion that will make of it a profound harmony.
Theosophy claims that it is the synthesis of religion, science and philosophy. But, when we approach this study, it makes upon us as students one powerful demand—that side by side with the study of its teachings shall go their practical application in our everyday lives.
It admits that to many it is a new kind of science, to which even the approach is unknown. It admits the difficulties in the way of its comprehension and practice. But even with this admission it holds out this encouragement to us: Other students there have been down the ages who have understood and mastered this science; and what others have done, that we too can do. And so, if we approach the science of the soul without predilections or prejudices, determined to know for ourselves, then can we expect to see the fruit on the tree, nurtured and ripened by our own efforts and ready to be shared with the whole world.
Theosophy gives a clear and well-defined object, an ideal to live for, to every sincere man or woman belonging to whatever station in society and of whatever culture and degree of intellect. Practical Theosophy is not one Science, but embraces every science in life, moral and physical.